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Astigmatism

Reviewed by: Daniel J. Lattin, MD
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What Is Astigmatism?

Astigmatism is a vision problem that makes it hard for a person to see objects clearly at near and far distances. It happens when the cornea or lens of the eye has an abnormal shape. Astigmatism (uh-STIG-muh-tih-zum) can affect one eye or both.

What Happens in Astigmatism?

The cornea is the clear outer layer that covers the front of the eye. Inside the eye, the lens changes shape to let the eye adjust from seeing at a distance to seeing up close. The cornea works with the lens and other parts of the eye to point light onto the retina at the back of the eye. When everything is working right, the eye sends a clear picture to the brain.

Normally the cornea is dome-shaped, and the lens is shaped like a round pillow, thickest in the middle and smoothly tapered toward the edge. But in astigmatism, either the cornea, the lens, or both have an uneven curve. Because of the curve, light pointed on the retina bends, so the brain sees images as blurry or warped.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Astigmatism?

Many children with astigmatism do not have symptoms. Others will have blurry or warped vision. They also may:

  • squint a lot
  • complain of headaches or sore eyes
  • have a hard time seeing information written on the board at school
  • have trouble reading or recognizing faces

What Causes Astigmatism?

Kids can be born with astigmatism or develop it as they grow. Having an eye injury can cause it too. Sometimes there is a family history of astigmatism.

How Is Astigmatism Diagnosed?

Eye doctors can diagnose astigmatism during an eye exam. They use special equipment that can pick up astigmatism and other problems, like nearsightedness and farsightedness.

Vision problems also might be found during routine eye tests at school.

How Is Astigmatism Treated?

Most older kids and teens with astigmatism need eyeglasses or contact lenses to help them see clearly.

Very young children and kids with mild astigmatism may not need treatment. Sometimes children outgrow astigmatism as they get older. 

If young children have a lot of astigmatism in one or both eyes, though, it can lead to another condition called amblyopia. Amblyopia is when the brain does not learn to see clearly with one or both eyes. When it’s caught early, the condition can be treated. Most often, this involves glasses and/or eye patching.

How Can Parents Help?

If you notice that your child squints or has a hard time telling one letter from another, take them to the eye doctor.

If your child was prescribed eyeglasses, encourage wearing them with these tips:

  • Let your child choose the frames.
  • For active kids, find glasses that are durable and comfortable.
  • Together, make a schedule for wearing glasses. Help your child follow it.
  • For younger kids, show them famous people or characters who wear glasses.
  • If your older child is interested, talk about the idea of wearing contact lenses in the future.
Reviewed by: Daniel J. Lattin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2022